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The Unusual Relationship Between Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

As a powerful new exhibit shows, the 16th president felt a close connection to the Jewish people. Why?

The last posed photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken ten weeks before his assassination. Alexander Gardner, Wikimedia.

The last posed photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken ten weeks before his assassination. Alexander Gardner, Wikimedia.

Observation
April 1 2015
About the author

Edward Rothstein reviewed the Museum of the Bible for the Wall Street Journal, where he is Critic at Large. His previous essays in Mosaic include “The Unusual Relationship between Abraham Lincoln and the Jews,” “The Problem with Jewish Museums,” and “Jerusalem Syndrome at the Met.”


It was Good Friday—April 14, 1865—when John Wilkes Booth made his way into the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre, forcibly propped the door shut behind him, and shot a bullet into the head of Abraham Lincoln. For many mourners, the timing had unusual significance. The Civil War, in which some 750,000 Americans had lost their lives, was coming to an end. Just weeks earlier, citing the nation’s trauma in his Second Inaugural address, Lincoln had suggested that this “mighty scourge of war” was a form of divine retribution visited on “both North and South” for the offense of slavery. He ended with words of consolation and exhortation:

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More about: Abraham Lincoln, American Jewry, History & Ideas